Friday, March 18, 2011

Argentine journalist searches the deep Web for scoops

Versión en español aquí.

Sandra Crucianelli is a pioneer in hyperlocal journalism on the Web. Her news website, (Just Local), provides in-depth investigative coverage of the industrial port of Bahia Blanca, 400 miles from Buenos Aires in Argentina.

She and two partners manage the site, which has 790 registered users and 50 regular contributors of news, videos, fotos and opinion. In a city of 300,000, attracts 4,500 unique users weekly.

Three goals

From the beginning in 2008, Sandra had the idea of ​​creating something different, with cutting-edge use of social networks to gather and disseminate news. Her Facebook page has 5,000 followers and generates a steady stream of comments.

She has also been a leader in "systematic digital tracking" of the Web through advanced search techniques using Google, Bing, Yahoo and other search engines.
She describes the search technique itself as "my Coca-Cola formula."

Often her searches uncover official documents that would otherwise remain hidden from public view. She discusses her techniques in depth in her her book, in Spanish, "Herramientas Digitales para Periodistas," available free on the web in PDF format.

This method helps Sololocal beat the competition on news despite having only three volunteer journalists, who take turns working about six hours a day. All have other jobs. The operations center of SoloLocal is Crucianelli’s garage. There is minimal infrastructure, which keeps costs low.

"I’m hoping for a miracle"

In terms of a business model, Crucianelli describes the site as "a disaster" because it just generated the first advertising revenue, $800 a month, barely enough to cover the cost of the site’s server. Because of the complications of starting and running a business in Argentina, SoloLocal has outsourced advertising sales. 

She is of the opinion that this kind of independent journalism has little chance of producing enough income to be self-sufficient. It is more a public service than a business, she says.

Unlike the U.S., where millionaires have started to support independent journalism projects, "Latin America's wealthy are not like that." They have no interest in promoting honest journalism, she says. In terms of external support and contributions, "I’m hoping for a miracle."

Unique content is key

Independent news sites must produce their own high-quality stories, she believes.  "The only projects that will survive long term are the ones that have original content, not those who do copy-paste" he says. 

She recommends that Latin American journalists learn to at least read English to get access to the most innovative
digital tools. She notes that many of the most useful tools are not released in Spanish. This puts colleagues without English at a disadvantage. 

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